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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Life is still tough for the owners of lazy slaves.

Empathy is the thing in schools history these days. You get the kids to think their way in to what it was really, truly like to be a fourteenth century Bohemian swineherd and feel their pain. Empathising with groups neglected and derided by the “Kings ‘N’ Battles” school of history is particularly favoured.

As part of my personal commitment to this school of thought, I’d like to bring up for public view the sufferings of a marginalised and stigmatised group. Slaveowners. Ever thought about their problems, huh? You probably think a person who can legally demand the unlimited services of another human has everything he wants. But you’d be wrong.

The ancient and modern chroniclers agree. Slaves were frequently lazy, dishonest and obstructive. Lacking initiative and zeal. Endlessly prone to saying, “yes massa, coming massa,” and yet still somehow unwilling to put their hearts, souls and scrubbing arms into bringing out that deep-clean sparkle when scrubbing out the vomitorium.

Here is Seneca, writing in the Rome of the first century AD: “A household of slaves requires dressing and feeding; a crowd of ravenous creatures have to have their bellies filled, clothing has to be bought, thieving hands have to be watched, and the service we get is rendered with resentment and curses.” (From On Tranquillity.)

Seneca knew no other system than slavery. In contrast English observers of the US writing after 1833 could observe the system from outside. I found several quotations in the Penguin Portable Victorian Reader illustrating how shoddy slave-work was. A passionate enemy of slavery, Charles Dickens, wrote “Richmond is a prettily situated town; but like other towns in slave districts (as the planters themselves admit) has an aspect of decay and gloom which to an unaccustomed eye is most distressing.”

Even an opponent of slavery as lukewarm as William Makepeace Thackeray had to admit, writing to a friend in England: “Every person I have talked to here about it deplores it and owns that it is the most costly domestic machinery ever devised. In a house where four servants would do with us …. there must be a dozen blacks here, and the work is not well done.”

Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, describing her experiences in Savannah for The English Woman’s Journal, also notes a certain lack of devotion to duty: “The [slave] boy was sent to bring a cart and horse to his master directly, but he very cooly put him off, in a way that would have lost a boy his place in England.”

It must all have been very frustrating to the owners. They had important things to do, and here were the lazy good-for-nothing slaves delaying and dallying and just not putting their heart and soul into it.

Now, just possibly you the reader aren’t very sympathetic. Just possibly you opine that the slaveowners had only themselves to blame – “Well, of course,” you are saying, “it’s no surprise that if people are forced to work for nothing then they don’t bust a gut.”

So why do so many people expect these familiar laws of human behaviour to suddenly change when the time is now and the work to be done is AIDS research?

In this link Stephen Pollard quotes Roger Bate, writing in the Wall Street Journal, as saying that AIDS drug development is trending downwards.

Why the decline?

Because the drugs companies no longer believe that they are going to get rich out of AIDS research. In fact they begin to doubt they will get any compensation at all. They read the newspapers, they study the speeches of politicians, and they sense that the popular wind is blowing against them. They think, probably rightly, that governments will either force them to sell at a loss drugs that were developed at huge expense or will bypass them and the law entirely by buying generic copies of patent drugs. Governments, after all, are the ones who can change the law when it is inconvenient. One minute the authorities will come down like a ton of bricks on pirate music or pirate videos. The next minute they will say that it is ‘unacceptable greed’ for companies to actually want to profit from patents on medical discoveries. I accept that there are subtleties and genuine conflicts of principle in the field of intellectual property – but the bottom line is that if pharma companies get nothing but abuse for the work they put in they bloody well won’t put in much more of it. Just as for the slaves, it’s no surprise that if people are forced to work for nothing then they don’t bust a gut.

The Concerned Classes have gradually become aware that AIDS research is slowing down. After a period of astonishment that the drugs companies might actually decline to work for nowt they have gone into a huddle and have come up with their usual strategy: force. Dammit, we’ll make them find a cure! Or perhaps we can be more subtle. We’ll get the work out of them by veiled threats of legal action and harassment, and by egging on our toadies in the press to yet more slander.

In other words, the master sees the work ill-done and gets out his whip. He need not use it – most of the time. It is enough to finger it in a meaningful manner. This strategy appears to succeed at first. Oh, the hurry and scurry among the slaves! There is great show of work being done. Yes massa, coming massa! But somehow – still – things are still shoddy, unimaginative. Creativity cannot be got by means of a whip.

The slave has his own strategies. Fine says the company. Our research budget will be as big as ever. (Many companies find it useful to have a drainage swamp. Here’s where they’ll pile the “miscellaneous” funds; they can always contrive to get them back later if need be.) Redundancy looks bad and costs money, so we’ll send Arthur to AIDS research. You don’t know Arthur? Nice chap, you’ll like him. Not top notch, perhaps, but no one actually thinks he’s a deadbeat. Still, if things were different he would be let go in hard times – but now they have a much cosier solution. They’ll promote him, even. Put his picture in the company magazine and, better yet, the press release. The syrupy article on the fine, public-spirited work Arthur and his team are doing for the suffering people of Africa almost writes itself. The company publicity officer will certainly have a busy morning sending this press release to ministers and journalists and AIDS lobby groups. (Yes massa, coming massa!) Arthur himself is vaguely aware that he has been sidelined, but he doesn’t mind. The pressure is off. He is doing Important Work. The status of virtue replaces the status of success. It can be comfortable being a slave.

This is, naturally, a statistical tendency rather than a universal law. Individual researchers of great creativity and diligence will stay in the field of AIDS research for the love of it and humanity – but the pool of talent will be reduced by all those not so altruistic. It’s happening now, and it’s not just the researchers themselves that are affected. Everyone seems to hate medical managers but they are in fact necessary. A talented go-getting manager who wants get promotion, dosh, and glory by saving his company’s ass as expressed in the balance sheet – he’ll hot-foot it to some other department than AIDS Research.

That’s bad enough. But the real harm is only just beginning. A young medical researcher is wondering which line of study to pursue for his doctorate. New headache pills maybe… the next Ibuprofen? Or AIDS research? But somehow AIDS research just doesn’t seem to be where all the hot-shots go any more. Without the glamour of serious profit it is no longer, to use a painfully apt metaphor, sexy. Our researcher is scarcely conscious that his decision has any component of self interest at all, as most of us prefer not to dwell on such things. Somehow the science of headache pills glows a little brighter in his imagination and that of retro-virals looks a little more dowdy.

Some readers may find my comparison of AIDS researchers to slaves rather melodramatic. I admit the charge, in so far as it extends to workers. Individual AIDS researchers are free men and women. The sort of compulsion we are seeing in the field of AIDS research is an infinitely lesser evil for the companies and their workers than the outrage of slavery… a lesser evil for them, but it may kill as many black men and women as slavery ever did.

Slavery is: work for nothing. Slaves are: lazy, obstructive, lacking in zeal. “The work is not well done.” Yes, life must have been tough for the owners of lazy slaves. And it always will be. Important work is done by free men.

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53 comments to Life is still tough for the owners of lazy slaves.

  • Verity

    Wow, Natalie! A tour de force! And, I think, a very apt analogy. What I don’t understand is why the pharmaceutical companies are taking this lying down. Surely it would have been better for everyone had they faced down the special interest groups?

  • Brian Micklethwait

    Agreed. Outstanding post.

  • A_t

    My question is though, were the pharmaceutical companies banking on making billions out of empoverished third world countries anyway? I suspect the answer’s no; the vast majority of the money they expected to get back was from rich first world countries. No-one’s proposing that drugs in the US, the UK, Norway or Japan should be available at cut rates. These are the places the companies were relying on to pay back their costs. So where’s the big scoop out of their profits then? In the (proportionally tiny) black market from the third to the first world perhaps?

    Furthermore, the suggestion that scientists will only find big money projects ‘sexy’ doesn’t apply to many research scientists I’ve known. They’re not entrepreneurs, & provided they’re being paid a decent wage, many people I’ve known would rather work on something intellectually challenging, or which they felt had a useful purpose, than on something lucrative but basically mundane. The most celebrated scientists are not necessarily the ones who made the most money, & many might feel that being recognised as ‘great’ by future generations somewhat outranks having a bigger pile of dollars right now.

    An alternative suggestion as to why AIDS research is slowing down is that in the first world, HIV is now a relatively manangable virus. There’s not the huge clamour for miracle cures that there was a decade ago, as people can live relatively comfortably, & much longer than previously expected with the disease. In the Third world meanwhile, things are different; the drugs which can hold the disease at bay are unaffordable, and people are clamouring for some kind of vaccination or cure. But why should the pharma companies show much interest in developing drugs for clients who have no money?

    If you have access to facts which suggest that Western governments are planning to rip off the pharma companies on sales to the First world, your argument holds, because companies would indeed be deprived of profits they were rightly expecting, and would have little incentive to invest any more in the problem. If however, this is not the case, the super-skint nature of the majority of potential AIDS drug consumers makes the whole ‘slave’ argument somewhat illogical.

  • eric

    oooo….shrewd, very shrewd. That’s exactly what they’ll do.

  • ernest young

    Substitute ‘Socialist State’ for “Slave Owner’, and the description still fits nicely… after all, both have a majority of folk working (unwillingly), for the benefit of the few!.

    Wasn’t it the demoralised workforce that really caused the ultimate downfall of the USSR and East Germany?.

  • dmick

    “No-one’s proposing that drugs in the US, the UK, Norway or Japan should be available at cut rates.”

    They wont cut the prices as most first world countries already pay below the necessary rate for risk / reward trade off pharma companies need for the long term. This is especially prevalent in Europe. (That is itself a whole topic in itself which includes the moving of research frm Europe to the US for this reason.)

    Fine article Natalie

  • Dan

    The analogy with pharmaceutical companies is interesting.

    But I have to admit, the first thing I thought of was today’s high-schoolers.

    If you read what today’s teachers are facing: lip, sass, cheating, apparent agreement followed with obstructionism, poor work — there seems to be a certain agreement.

    I don’t know what the answer is for public schools, but I think at some point we need to realize that if kids don’t want to be there, we can’t make them be there.

  • Guy Herbert

    And a further suggestion:

    As A-t points out, There’s not the huge clamour for miracle cures that there was a decade ago, as people can live relatively comfortably, & much longer than previously expected with the disease.

    The refill business is the one to be in. Why research a cure/vaccine unless it will be much more profitable than maintenance? Any cure at a price that’s less than astronomical is going to have to come from a drug entrepreneur who’s not already committed in the maintenance sector.

    Maintenance also supports the overlapping circles of government healthcare providers, lifestyle police, and disproportionately-sized AIDS lobby groups of the Western world. Those institutions may say they want a cure, and individuals within them certainly believe they want a cure. But the disappointment and angry disbelief they evince when encouraging facts emerge suggests they, too, have an investment in endemic HIV.

  • A_T

    “They wont cut the prices as most first world countries already pay below the necessary rate for risk / reward trade off pharma companies need for the long term. This is especially prevalent in Europe. (That is itself a whole topic in itself which includes the moving of research frm Europe to the US for this reason.”

    oh boo hoo… is this really true?

    a) we live in a global marketplace. What does it matter where your research is done? Surely it makes sense to do it where you’ll achieve the best cost/benefit results; as far as I’m aware, there’s no reason you can’t research a drug in Europe & then sell it in the US, or research it in China & then sell it to the UK.

    b) well, perhaps if people are unwilling to pay the high price these drugs involve (whether directly or via taxation), they’re not interested in the slight (on average) improvement they make to human lives, & feel that the money could be better spent on other things. We already live astoundingly long & healthy lives by most human standards. Pharma research is expensive & it’s hardly ridiculous to suggest that the quality of one’s life might be improved by other more inexpensive means. Of course the pharma companies would like to convince us that no price is too high to pay, but it doesn’t exactly take a genius to realise they have a vested interest in that side of the argument.

  • A_t

    Guy, that point about the maintenance business occurred to me as i was writing about a possible vaccine. You’re perfectly right; the vaccine would have to be horribly expensive if it were to make commercial sense coming from any of the current major players in the AIDS drug market.

    🙂 a thousand conspiracy theories have been launched on far less solid timber; what do merck have hidden away in the basement?

  • Cydonia

    A_T:

    “No-one’s proposing that drugs in the US, the UK, Norway or Japan should be available at cut rates.”

    I’m not an expert, but what is there to stop somebody importing cheap Aids drugs from the Third World and re-selling them in the West at cut rates?

  • Andrew Duffin

    A-T:

    “No-one’s proposing that drugs in the US, the UK, Norway or Japan should be available at cut rates. ”

    Actually, that is exactly what they ARE proposing. Google the furore going on in the US about importing cheap medicines from Canada, where they are cheaper because, well, because the State wants them to be cheaper.

    Goose…Egg…Golden… remember that old fable?

  • Andrew Duffin

    Cydonia:

    There is nothing to stop them, and in fact that is already happening.

    Natalie – great post.

    Stalin, too, found that slavery didn’t pay: the guarding of the Gulags meant that their activities were not economical even though the workers were paid nothing and provided with no safety precautions or medical support. In Stalin’s experiment, though, nobody dared make the point while he was still alive. Once he was dead, the system was dismantled pdq.

  • Long-winded but interesting analogy, Natalie.

    The subject of AIDS medicines is one which has got me in a quandary. Modern medicine is a business, saving lives is (in my opinion) a duty. How do you square the circle?

    I don’t suppose I’d expect conservative libertarians to believe the same thing, but I do think there must be the possibility of coming to a compromise between profiteering and saving as many lives as possible.

    As people have noted, pharmas aren’t the only people we should be listening to: a cynic would point out that they want us to believe there is about to be a killer blow for research, since it would mean they concentrate on the far more lucrative production of temporary treatment rather than long-term cure, or even vaccine.

    We have to look at AIDS, as with cancer, as a dangerous threat to humanity, and treat it in the same way as we would other threats.

    …As for the points on global research/sales and import/export, I think the varying legal positions of different nations on ‘unsanctioned’ drugs mean it would be against the law to do this. Though that wouldn’t stop everybody, of course.

  • David Gillies

    It’s things like this that make me believe that the anti-globalisation protesters are not merely misguided but evil. Ultimately, to paraphrase Golda Meir’s quote about the Palestinians, until they love people more than they hate free trade, there’ll never be a solution.

  • A_t

    “I’m not an expert, but what is there to stop somebody importing cheap Aids drugs from the Third World and re-selling them in the West at cut rates?”

    As Bobby points out above, & I covered briefly, I don’t think this would happen on a large scale; considering Tesco’s can’t even get away with selling cut price Levis imported from the US, and the fact that you have to have licenses to sell any kind of pharmaceuticals that are useful for AIDS treatement, I think that although this would undoubtedly happen a bit, it wouldn’t bite significantly into the legal market; when it comes to matters of life & death, most people who can afford not to would rather not deal with dodgy grey imports of questionable origin & authenticity.

  • A_t

    David, in what way is it *evil* to suggest that people who would never be able to afford drugs, & will die if not given them, should perhaps be given a discount? Particularly given that it’s by no means certain that this will detract from research into better ways of dealing with AIDS (where are the third-world billions which would fund it?).

    Please explain how you will save the lives of the millions who will die over the next few years without offering them cheap drugs. Or would you say that they’re necessary sacrifices, in order to induce the pharma companies to hunt for an elusive (& perhaps nonexistant, or 100-years-in-the-making, or coming from another domain entirely, eg. nanotech) cure?

  • Cydonia

    A_t

    If re-importing is not a problem, then why don’t Pharm companies voluntarily choose to sell Aids drugs cheaply in the Third World?

  • A_t

    Cydonia, because it won’t be nonexistant; it certainly will bite into their profits a bit, but I’d strongly argue that the lives saved overall would offset the relatively small loss in profits incurred by the pharma companies. If the CEO’s of pharma companies argued in favour of this profit reduction, they wouldn’t be doing their job, which is to maximise shareholder revenue, properly. I would never expect them to endorse any policy which had a negative effect, however small, on their profits. It’s not their job to do so.

    I also think they see it as a dangerous precedent which erodes patent law.

    Either way, these are all uncertainties whereas it’s undeniable that the availability of cheap drugs would save lives. It’s the reverse of the global warming argument above; on the one side, you have a definite, predictable consequence (people die of AIDS/business suffers as a consequence of eco-legislation) on the other, a possible consequence (pharma companies lose money, & maybe slow down research/the planet warms up or cools down, with disastrous effects for millions of people).

    It may seem weird that in the one instance I lean towards the uncertain, & in the other the certain. However, I’d argue that if pharma companies look as though they’re heading for perdition as a result of these measures, any legislation permitting the production of cheap generics would be withdrawn forthwith, & profits would flow into pharma companies again. A few years of research might be lost, but interest in improving human health, & money to do so, is hardly going to dry up, & the industry would be back on it’s feet within a short time. On the other hand, if there genuinely is a problem with the earth’s atmosphere/ecosystem, by the time we obtain definite proof & take measures to stop adding any more to it, any rectifying could take centuries; natural/atmospheric phenomenae operate on much larger timescales than human markets.

  • A_t,

    You yourself have made the argument that I was going to make as to why pharma companies should not be forced to offer AIDS drugs cheaply to the third world – it’s the precedent, and the uncertainty that follows breakdowns of property rights.

    There is nothing evil about offering discounts to poor customers. It would be meritorious thing to do and would certainly earn goodwill with me.

    But there is all the difference in the world between the companies offering discounts of their own will and them being forced to offer discounts. In fact the difference is the difference between charity and theft, or charity and slavery – hence my original post.

    There would also be scope for concerned people to contribute towards buying drugs for Third World AIDS victims.

    You will guess that I am no supporter of welfare-type policies but I think that it would be less bad for governments to buy drugs at full price and then give them away than to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, to use Andrew Duffin’s metaphor.

    If once the principle is established that “the government will force you to work for free for important causes” then one can be sure that the definition of important will be continually widened. And, crucially, whatever is deemed important will be the very thing that is not well done. For instance many countries in Africa and elsewhere tried or still try to operate fixed, low prices for basic necessities such as bread. And sure as eggs is eggs it is those very basic commodities that are beset by shortages, and are frequently adulterated even when they are available. Many, many Africans have died proving that this is a bad idea. Meanwhile the BMWs are fairly freely available for those that can pay. I am utterly convinced that nowhere is a price mechanism so vital as in supplying the necesseties of life.

    Incidentally, Africans aren’t – en masse – so poor as to render the African market trivial. China and India certainly aren’t trivial or declining markets either. I notice that people (people in general, I don’t know about you in particular) are willing to believe that there is a profitable market in the Third World when it comes to berating cigarette makers for expanding there but not when it comes to AIDS drugs.

    Many other good points were made about reimportation, and the analogy with schools – alas, I have to go now.

  • R. C. Dean

    Dang, Natalie. Nice post. Quit raising the bar on the lazier sort of Samizdatista.

    A_t claims “No-one’s proposing that drugs in the US, the UK, Norway or Japan should be available at cut rates.” This is wrong. People are working toward this very result right now. In particular, in the US they are trying to eliminate restrictions on “reimportation”, which would make the price in West Africa the price the US as well.

    Cydonia asks “I’m not an expert, but what is there to stop somebody importing cheap Aids drugs from the Third World and re-selling them in the West at cut rates? ” Well, in the US it is illegal “reimportation”, although it probably won’t be illegal for long.

    The socialists in the US, having failed to socialize medicine entirely, have hit on legalized reimportation as a way to socialize the pharmaceutical end of medicine, by importing it from other countries.

    A_t rather breezily dismisses reimportation as no threat in the future because it isn’t a threat now. Well, that is mostly because it is illegal now. If it is legalized, then there will be a world market in drugs, with the low price being established in government-controlled medical economies that simply threaten to break the patent if the drug company doesn’t knuckle under. In a world with, effectively, no patent protection for new drugs, drug research will dry up.

    The dynamics are already in place and beginning to work. The only thing propping up patent rights right now is the US law against reimportation. If that goes, and I believe it will, then you will see research budgets dry up.

  • James

    A strange post to see on Samizdata. Patent protection is nothing more than massive government intervention to make markets function ‘better’ according to government chosen criteria. That is not a libertarian position, anymore than a belief in government money or a publicly run health service is.

    It’s also short of a few facts. Drug companies account for less than half of US research spending into new medicines, and much of that is spent on creating similar drugs to ones available now (to get around other companies’ patents).

    The problem for HIV is that not many people in the rich world get it, compared with say cancer. Thus the research base is quite small. But the millions of people in Africa who do have it don’t have any money, so there is no point charging them more. Then all you are doing is letting poorer people die because you won’t sell them a product at a price you can make a profit on (marginal cost is near zero).

    If the western markets cannot support expensive hiv research the only real solution is large (or larger — much of the research already is paid for from this source) amounts of government money, which in a sense could be viewed as foreign aid.
    The other option would be western governments pay drug companies for the medicine which they then give to the developing countries. But this would be double government intervention — first in offering the patent, then in paying the full price for the medicine.

  • Matt W.

    As others have pointed out before on other sites, AIDS also is now probably receiving less research attention for another reason not mentioned. AIDS (HIV) unlike other pandemics can be easily avoided, unlike Typhoid, Malaria, or Bubonic plague. So here in the first world, the common practice of using condoms as well as most likely being less promiscuous in many populations keeps AIDS relatively contained. Thus, along with what other people have said a lack of compensation, there is far less impetus to do research on a virus that is unlikely to ever get out of hand here. What can be done about African nations where it infects a large portion of the population, I’m not sure, but as Natalie pointed out, theres little incentive for a company to bankrupt itself for such a thankless job.

  • Verity

    Why do *we* have to look for non-market solutions – or, indeed, any solutions, to Africa’s AIDS problem? Surely this is the responsibility of their governments? Maybe a few dictators could free up their billion dollar Swiss bank accounts? They don’t want to do that? Then why should the western stock market investor, investing (legitimately) in their own future, wish to do so in their stead?

    Sorry, but World Aids Day is one more well-funded transzi which has managed to gain an ascendancy and into whose agenda I will not be blackmailed into buying.

  • A_t

    some of you people (R C Dean in particular) really think that socialist nuts control the world, don’t you?

    Do you think the people who govern the US are so ignorant of market forces that they will sacrifice research into new drugs (because yes, that would be the effect if super-cheap 3rd world generics were allowed into the US market; it’s obvious to anyone who’s not a fool), to some twisted ideal? I’m sorry, but mismanaged though our nations may be sometimes, I don’t think our governments are that incompetent or ignorant of the way market forces operate (if people really are proposing this, then jesus! what idiots).

    Natalie, you have a point about rich people in 3rd world countries. Perhaps this (relatively small, but not insignificant) market explains the companies’ reluctance to offer discounts. My question though, from my perspective is, can you stand there with a clear conscience & watch people die for certain, because you feel there *might* be future dangers inherent in any action that could save their lives, and the means to save their lives goes against your general philosophy of life?

    The other thing I was going to say is that through the ages, many nations have ignored patent laws; the Swiss notably built their pharma industry on the basis of such policies. Third world countries know that if they follow policies used successfully in the past by currently-first-world nations, they will now be punished for doing so. This seems somewhat hypocritical.

  • ed

    A few points.

    1. R&D isn’t a light switch.
    You can’t just turn on and off R&D as if it were some sort of dumb switch. It takes years, if not decades, to setup efficient, stable and effective R&D not to mention an enormous amount of money. Every time you monkey around with the stability of R&D you impose additional costs and burdens that can have enormously uncertain consequences. An example would be a college student looking to enter into the workforce as a research biogeneticist. It’ll take about 7-8 years of study to attain that status and there’s the job experience afterwards. If you reduce the financial rewards for new drugs, and thereby the financial rewards for working on new drugs, then you’ll have a great dropoff in the number of students looking to study for those jobs. Or perhaps the veteran researcher who finds another line of work. Are you going to lure this person back and if so, how? So when you start thinking of F-ing around with this stuff, start thinking in DECADES not years. Goof around with this and there might not be a few years of interruption but rather a few decades of interruption. How would you like a 30 year wait for a new antibiotic?

    2. Phama companies aren’t making huge profits on anyone but Americans.
    This is a fact. Many countries force the pharma companies to sell at cost or slightly above cost. Some countries, like Brazil, don’t even recognize drug patents and allow domestic companies to produce them without any reimbursement to the pharma companies. Right now the American worker is shouldering much of the cost of healthcare in Canada, Europe and elsewhere. This is why our prices are so high, we’re the only hope that the pharma companies have of recouping their R&D costs. This doesn’t mean that it’s a good thing. Frankly I’m rather tired of shouldering the burden so perhaps it is a good idea to castrate the R&D ability of pharma companies. This way, when a massive pandemic slaughters a couple hundred million people, there might actually be some reconsideration of how unfair this crap is.

    3. “An alternative suggestion as to why AIDS research is slowing down is that in the first world, HIV is now a relatively manangable virus.”
    Perhaps that’s true of some people with HIV but not AIDS. But many of the drugs that AIDS patients must take are highly toxic. It’s a real question as to whether or not the disease or the drugs will finally kill the patient. If this a good thing to you, then life is sweet. But having to choose between dying of AIDS or dying due to the toxic side effects of some necessary medication is a pretty terrible choice.

    4. “we live in a global marketplace. What does it matter where your research is done? ”
    It doesn’t really matter no. Except that you’d want a very business friendly location with a very large population of highly educated people. Which is one reason to choose America I suppose. Another might be because America is the only place where they can actually make a profit.

    5. “well, perhaps if people are unwilling to pay the high price these drugs involve (whether directly or via taxation), they’re not interested in the slight (on average) improvement they make to human lives, & feel that the money could be better spent on other things.”
    That’s an interesting point of view, but a very limited one. It’s only honest if you’re absolutely willing to accept death because everyone else has decided it’s too much damn trouble to find and fund a cure for your ailment. But that level of honesty is very hard to find. To be really certain you’ll have had to have suffered an extremely difficult, long-term and extraordinarily painful illness. Cancer, liver or kidney failure or the like would do. Otherwise it’s just bullshit as you would have no experience with which to judge.

    As a person dealing with kidney failure I can tell you that I have faced death many many times. I’ve suffered from sepsis, a blood infection, that had my body’s temperature soaring above 105+ and me screaming out of my head. I’ve endured pain of the likes you’d probably never experience in your life. From all this I can tell you that there is NO PRICE THAT YOU WOULD NOT PAY TO END IT.

    There have been days when I would have gladly embraced euthanasia as an alternative to the pain and discomfort of living. There were times when I would have happiliy signed away my soul to end it.

    So until you’ve walked in those shoes, don’t talk like an ass.

    5. “I’m not an expert, but what is there to stop somebody importing cheap Aids drugs from the Third World and re-selling them in the West at cut rates? ”
    People are doing this right now in America. There are thousands of websites where you can buy drugs that are manufactured all over the world. There are a lot of concerns about the quality of the drugs and other issues. But this is happening now and it’s extremely hard to stop. Many of these websites are located offshore and the drugs are delivered using package delivery companies. These aren’t companies that import drugs into the US and then distribute them domestically. These are “companies” that sell drugs over the internet without any accountability at all. In case of trouble they simply disappear.

    6. Fact is that AIDS treatments *are* being sold for very little money.
    Anti-viral “cocktails” that would cost an American thousands of dollars per treatment are being sold in Africa for a few dollars. And yes, they are making their way back to America and the pharma companies are rethinking this largesse.

    7. It’s not just AIDS drugs, it’s all drugs.
    Frankly I think the greatest mistake is treating the R&D for AIDS drugs in isolation. Anything that affects AIDS research is going to affect, to a degree or another, all research. If you make it impossible to recoup the R&D costs for drugs then you will reduce the amount spent on that R&D. Currently it’s not cost effective to produce drugs that don’t have a very high level of guarantee of success in treatment, clinical trials and acceptance. In this way the R&D process has already been bastardized and all we’re going to get a slightly different versions of the same damn drugs. This is why there aren’t any new antibiotics.

    And if you think that isn’t a major issue then you’ve never been told you have a deep muscle infection of MRSA (the flesh eating bacteria) and you’ll need to not only have a month or more of antibiotics treatment but also surgery where you’re going to lose flesh. (I have had this, thank you)

    We’re standing on pivotal moment. We’ve all had decades of excellent health largely due to antibiotics and the R&D that made them. But it’s costing far too much, with too few rewards, for new antibiotics to show up. Very soon now, without significant changes, we are going to see resistant strains of the old killers resurface. Have you visited the old family cemetaries lately? Have you seen the number of children dead from diseases that we have lately laughed off? It wasn’t due to sloppy parenting that so many children died in their early years. It was disease.

    Words do not suffice.

  • Matt W.

    good post Ed, you’re quite right, i’m taking 2 pathology classes right now, and MANY of the old diseases have been slowly recurring over the past 2 decades. Methicillin Resistant Staph Aureus is just the most well known to my knowledge, but the same is true of Salmonella Typhi, V. Cholerae, hell even E. Coli. And when a large enough sampling of these DO get into the population it could very well be worse than before. Due to our medical system and the haphazard way people take antibiotics, most of those diseases get ample opportunity not only to develop resistence to the usual antibiotics but also to pick up extra virulence genes from other related species they come in contact with in hospitals. Already we’re having to rely on more toxic antibiotics like Cloramphinicol which often make the patient very sick as well. I’m not trying to say the “sky is falling” or anything, but if idiotic regulators and politicians don’t figure out the necessity of keeping R&D lucrative, then the only thing that will help them realize it is when suddenly tens of millions start coming down with a “new” species of the black plague.

  • R. C. Dean

    some of you people (R C Dean in particular) really think that socialist nuts control the world, don’t you?

    I think they’s like to control a hell of a lot more of it than they do already, definitely including the pharma biz. If you have any evidence to the contrary, A_t, do share with the class.

    Do you think the people who govern the US are so ignorant of market forces that they will sacrifice research into new drugs (because yes, that would be the effect if super-cheap 3rd world generics were allowed into the US market; it’s obvious to anyone who’s not a fool), to some twisted ideal?

    Yes, in fact I think there are a significant number of politicians who either don’t know or don’t care that their policies will lead to a drastic reduction in pharma R&D. My basis for this belief is the fact that, well, there are a significant number of politicians that are pushing policies that will lead to a drastic reduction in pharma R&D. Sure, they are sacrificing long-term benefits for short-term gain, but that is largely what the business of politics seems to be these days.

    Patent protection is nothing more than massive government intervention to make markets function ‘better’ according to government chosen criteria.

    Probably a post for another thread, but under a positivist view of the law all property rights can be characterized as government intervention to make markets function better. It is indisputable that title to real property, for example, can be traced back to a grant from a sovereign (king or state). Does this mean that real property rights should be disregarded? I don’t think so.

    Further, given the gargantuan strides in innovation and well-being that have been made under the current patent system, I would be very reluctant to cast it aside. If you ditch patents, what mechanism do you propose that will give inventors the ability to recover their development costs and enough of a profit to make worthwhile the risking of their capital on development?

  • Matthew

    I think most people believe that there should be some government intervention through patents for the reasons you give. But it’s a question of how much, and whether that you apply to developing countries where people are dying who would simply not be able to afford the medicine otherwise.

    If on the other hand you are saying that patents should be granted on everything for evermore then I look forward to you investigating who you should pay royalties on chairs, tables, carpets, televisions, cars, etc. After all they were once all inventions of someone.

  • Abby

    “Do you think the people who govern the US are so ignorant of market forces that they will sacrifice research into new drugs (because yes, that would be the effect if super-cheap 3rd world generics were allowed into the US market; it’s obvious to anyone who’s not a fool), to some twisted ideal?”

    I would say that is inevitable. In fact, this proposal was part of the new prescription drug benefit Congress pasted last week. The provision was taken out as a last minute compromise in committee. But it will be back. The US government is now big pharm’s largest customer.

    I am a supporter of reimportation. Here’s an excerpt from the article that convinced me:

    Critics begin by claiming that those supporting the House bill want U.S. prices to match prices abroad, where they’re government controlled. Doubtless, many supporters do. But the bill doesn’t call for that. It simply allows for market pricing by “forcing” pharmaceutical companies to rethink their pricing strategies. Market segmentation and price discrimination might very well continue, but with pricing designed to discourage reimportation. Thus, reimportation isn’t the end; it’s simply a means — free trade — that might very well lower prices for Americans by “forcing” foreign buyers to pick up part of the costs of R&D, which American law currently shields them from bearing, at the expense of American consumers. . . It is neither right nor good that Americans bear so great a portion of the health-care costs of the world.

    The current pricing structure enables socialist governments to perpetuate their monumentally flawed policies. This subsidy of fatuity simply fends off, for a time, a collapse that would lead to liberalization.

  • Anna

    “If the western markets cannot support expensive hiv research the only real solution is large (or larger — much of the research already is paid for from this source) amounts of government money, which in a sense could be viewed as foreign aid. The other option would be western governments pay drug companies for the medicine which they then give to the developing countries. But this would be double government intervention — first in offering the patent, then in paying the full price for the medicine. ”

    So, instead of supporting research, Americans and Europeans should pay full price to provide HIV medications to millions in Africa? Pretty casual about MY money, and, I’m not so sure there’s enough money in the world to take care of all the medical needs of everyone in Africa. I mean, if AIDs, why not cancer, infections, etc? And, a question: how does increasing longevity among HIV-positive persons affect transmission rates?

  • Abby

    It is true that Western markets are more interested in a cure for impotence than a cure for Aids. Nobel-seekers will continue to search for a cure, but by the time one is discovered we will have found a way to reverse the aging process entirely.

    The best solution is for emerging economies to grow to the point that they can finance their own market preferences. Currently standing in the way are the wrong-headed economic policies of such countries, and the wrong-headed trade policies of the West. If you want a cure for Aids, then march for the abolition of CAP.

  • Research work is being brought back to the U.S. for only one reason: if the costs cannot be added in for pricing to countries where governments do not permit, then the jobs must be brought back to the U.S. to continue deductability in the U.S. Very simple. If that is taken away in the States, bye-bye to any new drugs to treat anything.

  • Julian Morrison

    R.C.Dean says:
    “A_t rather breezily dismisses reimportation as no threat in the future because it isn’t a threat now. Well, that is mostly because it is illegal now. If it is legalized, then there will be a world market in drugs, with the low price being established in government-controlled medical economies that simply threaten to break the patent if the drug company doesn’t knuckle under. In a world with, effectively, no patent protection for new drugs, drug research will dry up.”

    Just like product production dries up, because it has to compete with socialist rigged markets? In free competition between socialism and capitalism, socialism will win out? Yup, it will – when it’s the nominal “socialists” who are trading freely while the nominal “capitalists” try to rig the market.

    Coming from the opposite perspective, I see this as globalization (as is its wont) crushing a coercive-monopoly. This may decrease the drug companies’ profits – but there is no right to take a profit. They will have to seek an alternative route to profitability. One of which might be to strongarm governments into giving up their absurdly overcautious drug testing regulations, and let the individual buyer choose the risk they are willing to take.

  • Abby

    I think you’re missing the point, Julian. Reimportation is just a stick to use to beat some free trade out of Europe.

    If the US market reimports European price controled drugs, then big pharm must either limit or refuse to sell drugs to Europe. These governments must have such drugs, and can’t seize the patents without breaking about a dozen treaties and sparking a full-on international trade war.

    So in the end, those socialist governments will simply have to ditch the price-controls, and we will have free and open trade once again. And as long as the US reimportation law stands, no government will be able to have price-controls. Companies will not sell cheap drugs abroad if they risk corrupting US market pricing.

    My apologies if I have misunderstood your comment, I am very drunk and must go to bed.

  • Wild Pegasus

    I hate to be the kooky fly in the ointment, but there’s no good evidence linking the HIV virus to AIDS. The AIDS-inflicted Africans are probably suffering from malnutrition mixed with whatever weird new diseases are popping up over there. Such a combination naturally causes a depletion of the immune system.

    http://www.virusmyth.net

    – Josh

  • R C Dean

    These governments must have such drugs, and can’t seize the patents without breaking about a dozen treaties and sparking a full-on international trade war.

    I disagree. I think they will break the patents, and there will be no trade war. By breaking the patents, they will maintain a flow of cheap drugs to the US via reimportation. No President is going to start a trade war to “save the profits of big pharma on the backs of the elderly.” Once our old people get hooked on cheap reimported socialist drugs, there will be no going back, politically.

  • Jacob

    A_t,

    “My question though, from my perspective is, can you stand there with a clear conscience & watch people die for certain, because…”

    People in poor countries die from a lot of causes, besides AIDS. How about malnutrition, foul water, poverty in general ? …

    “can you stand there with a clear conscience & watch …..?”

    Why single out AIDS and pharmas ?

    Maybe it would be more cost effective to build some water treatment plants and some sewers than buy them AIDS medicine, i.e. that would save more lives for the buck invested.
    Maybe some problems do not have satisfactory solutions, and just stating the problem doesn’t get you anywhere.

    “can you stand there with a clear conscience &
    watch …”
    “We must do something …”
    These are usually preludes to some snake oil solutions, that usually involve coercive expropiation of “the rich”.

  • Matthew

    Anna writes,

    “So, instead of supporting research, Americans and Europeans should pay full price to provide HIV medications to millions in Africa? Pretty casual about MY money”

    Er..no Anna you miss the point. The reason western government would pay full price is to maintain drug company profits, in order (as per Natalie’s post) to maintain research. Or as I said they could fund research directly.

    Maybe it’s being pretty casual with your money. But then again asking dying people to abide by foreign government market intervetion instead of getting medicines at the free market price is pretty casual with people’s lives, and pretty heavy handed state intervention.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    AIDS research is going down the drain because the smartest researchers have realised that there is NO firm evidence behind the HIV-AIDS theory, which is akin to trying to travel in space by supposing the existence of a breathable ether.

    Immuno-deficiency as characterised by classic AIDS has been found to be caused by other factors that have nothing to do with a hypothetical virus called HIV. From such flawed basis for research, why would the smartest and brightest in the scientific community continue working for fool’s gold?

    For one, there’s African AIDs, and there’s Western AIDs. African AIDS can be dignosed by the laughable Bangui definition, which does not even require a testing kit. African AIDS figures are the joke of the any detailed statistical study. There is no AIDS in Africa other than that caused by malnutrition, poor hygiene conditions, poverty and basic healthcare. Give me money to build factories for them to cure their poverty, to irrigate their lands, to provide food for the hungry. Don’t give me money to buy drugs for them.

    Another highly important piece of info: The majority of Western AIDS sufferers are still homosexual males. And there are reasons for their contacting AIDS that have nothing to do with a piffly little virus called HIV that exists in such small titers that every conceivable theory of virology had to be thrown out to accommodate its existence.

    If people wanted to take drugs which can wreck their immune system, it’s their choice. If they are willing to pay for a drug which can miraculously restore their immune system to full functionality after it has been wrecked, well then, demand will eventually create a supply.

    I can rant on and on, but it all boils down to one thing: There is no AIDS virus. AIDS exists, but is not caused by a virus, but rather a series of factors like lifestyle, diet, and living conditions. Good luck trying to cure that.

  • ed

    “If the US market reimports European price controled drugs, then big pharm must either limit or refuse to sell drugs to Europe. These governments must have such drugs, and can’t seize the patents without breaking about a dozen treaties and sparking a full-on international trade war.”

    WTO TRIPS. TRIPS = “Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights”

    Specifically Compulsory Licensing

    Allows countries to force the licensing of patents. This applies more to drug patents simply due to the universal nature of drugs (we all need them), the severe nature of drugs (we need them to live) and the expensive nature of drugs (we want them cheap). So all countries, except for America, use TRIPS as a club to beat the profits out of the pharma companies. It’s literally an offer that they cannot refuse. If they refuse the offer then the patents are simply stolen. If they accept then they make back nothing on the R&D costs.

    There’s no ride like a free ride just like there’s no beer like a free beer.

  • Abby

    “I think they will break the patents, and there will be no trade war.”

    No president is going to let major trading partners like the EU steal US intellectual property: its too important, both in practice and principle. Such an action is more likely to provoke a trade war than anything I can imagine. The US would immediately bring a case in the WTO, win, and respond.

    “No President is going to start a trade war to “save the profits of big pharma on the backs of the elderly.”

    Bush almost went to the mat for his illegal steel tariffs. If he had not repealed them the EU was authorized under WTO rules to impose massive retaliatory tariffs on a host of other goods.

    “Once our old people get hooked on cheap reimported socialist drugs, there will be no going back, politically.”

    Yes, I do agree with you. That’s what makes this prescription drug benefit so painful. Just wait until the bloated boomer generation retires.

  • ed

    Hmm.

    There is no need to “break the patents” simply because the drug patents are largely irrelevant to the rest of the world. Those countries that continue to observe drug patents laws simply use TRIPS to force drug prices down to an at cost price. Those countries that do not observe drug patent laws, such as Brazil, simply ignore them and rely on public pressure to avoid damages.

    Let’s face it. It’s an easy outcry to make. When you’re dealing with medical patents then you’re also dealing with the most defensible set of people on the planet, the sick. It’s a hard thing to fight and it’s even harder to argue that the pharma companies need to make profits on their R&D. It’s a lot easier, and simpler, to just take the position that the nasty money-grubbing pharma companies shouldn’t deserve the protection of patent laws let alone any law.

    Let’s burn’em down!

    But consider what has already happened. Currently pharma companies are reducing their R&D expenditures drastically, this is why their profits have risen. It’s not that their drug prices are far too high, it’s that their expenses are far too low. Would you, faced with the same situation, invest billions into further R&D? Especially that R&D that might not ever make a profit? Even if that R&D is critical to the further R&D that might result in the manufacture of important drugs?

    The truth is simply this: We’ve already passed the Rubicon. The pharma companies have already written off producing new drugs as a money loser. As it is right now the only drugs being developed or tested are those that are close cousins of already profitable drugs. What point is it to take version 1.12 of a drug when version 1.00 of that drug works fine? Why develop, test and market it?

    Simply because that later version, 1.12, essentially extends the patent rights a few more years.

    So while an AIDS cure might not be profitable a stomach acid reducing drug is. If your costs are low, due to the repetitive nature of the R&D, then it doesn’t hurt financially when you’re ripped off.

    So perhaps the real solution is to no longer rely on pharma companies to do the R&D necessary for new drugs. Perhaps that is a solution. Though I’m curious why people might think the government would be any more efficient at this than it has been at anything else. Even then it still doesn’t change the basic equation whereby the American ratepayer is still struggling with paying the cost of basic drug R&D while the rest of the world freeloads.

    Frankly my opinion is that this sorry state of affairs will simply continue until we encounter a pandemic. With the massive availability of long-distance flight and package delivery it would be difficult, if not impossible, to provide an effective quarantine. SARS has the possibility of becoming a pandemic, though I think that the Flu has better odds due to it’s past virulence. All it would take is a disease that is highly cummunicable, good survivability outside of the host body, long maturation time and a moderate mortality. Funnily enough it doesn’t have to be 100% fatal. Even 10% fatality would be enough to be catastrophic if it were able to infect a large enough percentage of the world’s population.

    Even at 10% it would be destructive enough that a nation’s infrastructure would become very vulnerable to collapse. In America, due to cost-savings and JIT (Just In Time) management and a demand for freshness, we’re very vulnerable to this. No American city or town of any size has more than three days of food onhand and stocked. A breakdown, even minor, of food delivery would quickly become catastrophic. If the mortality rate were much higher than 10%, then the effects would be even worse.

    Welcome to the really real world.

  • This definitely seems like the time to sever the connection between pharma co and R&D.

    First, of course, I’m somewhat skeptical that the costs are as high as stated; I’m sure the odd perk and boondoggle gets assigned to R&D.

    But I note that people are not thinking of the R&D itself as an independent effort with an independent product – an intellectual property or process – which can be licensed, auctioned, marketed and sold.

    I should point out the obvious, as well, that FDA requirements raise the price. On that point, of course, I’m sure we all have mixed feelings. 🙂 But perhaps sharing the load internationally might be useful – perhaps a useful role for the UN?

    I should also point out that third world nations are not standing still waiting for first world largesse; Cuba just hosted a large symposium on traditional, complementary and alternative medicines.

    But you can’t patent a weed…

  • Bob

    An important link that should not be forgotten between in the free markets argument is the nature of the connection between these (mostly) public companies and the public markets that do indeed control them. Until the rules are changed, managers of these companies are controlled by their need to manage a profit/loss, and are rewarded for doing so. It isn’t really about the “inventor” in R&D (I, too know many chemists/biologists who would take a salary from any organization that will pay them to do their research), but rather the manager of the company deciding where to spend the $100M+ to get the return on investment to keep his/her job.

    Attempting to tinker with this highly evolved market-based system will most likely have the kinds of unintended consequences noted previously, but more to the point will not serve the purpose of helping those that we all would like to see helped. There is no pure evil here, only a debate about how the world works. It would be interesting if we could indeed fix the nature of markets to include more fully a “values” system based on serving the poor and oppressed, but in our current state of societal evolution, it appears that we should maximize the output of the system that we live in, and then debate how best to spend the excess.

  • R. C. Dean

    Abby, the politics of the steel tariff were very different than the politics of shutting down reimportation to protect big pharma patents and profits. The costs of the steel tariff were very diffuse.

    The costs of defending big pharma patents, once reimportation starts, will be immediate (much higher drug prices), apparent to the public, and imposed on a discrete group of individuals that is highly influential politically.

    Once reimportation begins, shutting it down for any reason will be a political nonstarter because the gimme gimme gimme generation will be standing there saying the party that takes my cheap drugs will be tossed on the dustbin of history.

    Nice to see that the WTO already has a mechanism in place to facilitate the theft of intellectual property. So, there will be no need for a trade war – it is all legal.

    No politician in the world would sacrifice the short-term interests of a critical voting block like the elderly for the long-term interests of society.

    The more I look at this, the more I am convinced that it is Game Over for major pharma research breakthroughs, at least until a major paradigm shift from nanotech or biotech comes to pass.

  • ed

    Hmm.

    Sorry but the TRIPS protocol covers all patents, not just medical ones. It’s applied, to me at least, more to medical patents due to the universal nature of medical patents. Any new discoveries and treatments in nanotech, biotech or stem cell will result in the same exact situations, issues and resolutions.

    The only reason I can think of why people are shifting resources into these fields rather than drug research is that it’ll result in patents that won’t be so easily sidestepped. Either by the requirement of highly expensive specialized devices or bio-derived substances that would be extremely difficult to copy. Also there’s the added element that such cures might be used far less often and so the value/expense of each treatment might be much greater.

    An example might be a renal failure patient, like myself. Each week it costs an average of $10,000USD to treat me. If Merck could come up with a cure that costs $250,000USD it would be worth it since it would eventually cost much less.

  • Abby

    I’m glad to see you have decided to study the WTO, ed. As I don’t have time to provide a full exegesis of the current state of world trade rules, I will simply say that TRIPS fact sheet you cite is an extremely simplified version of the state of the law.

    Please trust me when I tell you that there are indeed legal means around this. Big pharm has never litigated because it can get the same result by recovering its expenses in the US market. The law is never as simple as it seems at first blush. More’s the pity.

  • Eric Sivula

    A_t, why should people in the devolped world feel guilty about the proliferation of AIDS in Africa? We did not design the disease and release it upon them. We did not laugh at their plight and give them fake cures to the plague. We told them how the disease was spread, what actions could limit its proliferation, and offered assistance to their problems. They claimed, and still claim, that we lied about what AIDS is, and where it originated. They do not believe in our methods to limit the spread (condoms, monagomy, testing), and DEMAND that we give them free drugs to help them combat the disease. Why again does the developed world owe these lunatics (and I think people who say that AIDS is cured by molesting 6 year old girls are INSANE) ANYTHING again?

  • The Wobbly Guy

    “We did not design the disease and release it upon them.”

    No… but AIDS was first identified in the West, and later attributed to a viral cause, which is just about the start of the whole sordid affair.

    “We did not laugh at their plight and give them fake cures to the plague.”

    True. But plague? Nah. People have been dying in droves in Africa, and AIDS is just the latest excuse in a long line of excuses.

    “We told them how the disease was spread, what actions could limit its proliferation, and offered assistance to their problems.”

    Yawn. Sure about that? Sexual contact theory is easily debunked by the fact that in the West, the growth of STD cases is different than that for AIDS. Ergo, AIDS cannot be a STD.

    But I still support limited sexual contact. God knows how they’re going to feed those kids anyway.

    “They claimed, and still claim, that we lied about what AIDS is, and where it originated.”

    Not knowing the truth is not lying, but ignorance is just as deadly.

    “They do not believe in our methods to limit the spread (condoms, monagomy, testing),”

    As these have worked so well in the West to limit all other STDs?:P

    Yes, I am being sarcastic. The check on AIDS cases in the West is less a matter of such devices and methods than the fact that AIDS is not a virally transmitted disease in the very first place.

    “and DEMAND that we give them free drugs to help them combat the disease.”

    Help for the Africans would not consist of drugs, but more food to feed their people and funds for them to rebuild their societies, economies.

  • ed

    “I’m glad to see you have decided to study the WTO, ed. As I don’t have time to provide a full exegesis of the current state of world trade rules, I will simply say that TRIPS fact sheet you cite is an extremely simplified version of the state of the law.

    Please trust me when I tell you that there are indeed legal means around this. Big pharm has never litigated because it can get the same result by recovering its expenses in the US market. The law is never as simple as it seems at first blush. More’s the pity.”

    Actually I haven’t really bothered to read up on the WTO aside from specific instances. Frankly I think the WTO is a dying entity that won’t see the decade out. The fact is that the whole concept of “free trade” is an illusion. This is due to the massive amounts of protectionism and financial subsidies that nearly every government supplies to their important industries. Additionally, with the continued destruction of manufacturing here in America, we’re relying even more on intellectual property to provide wealth generation.

    But in a world where intellectual property has, in reality, zero legal status this “property” hardly has any value at all. If intellectual property really was *property* and protected by the WTO then please explain the millions of DVD’s, CD’s and software pirated by Chinese **government** owned companies. Please explain Brazil’s outrageous trashing of American drug patents. Explain India’s “generic” drug manufacturing that doesn’t even bother respecting American drug patents.

    Fact is that intellectual property is bullshit. It only exists where there are mechanisms that will actually move to protect it. Absent such protections it’s simply fodder for another countrie’s economy. To rely entirely upon intellectual property as the basis of an entire economy is utterly beyond stupid.

    I think we’re already seeing the very first aspect of this situation in this “jobless” recovery. I don’t believe that this recovery will actually create many jobs at all. There has been a wholesale exporting of American manufacturing base AND it’s intellectual property base as well. There are millions of foreign workers here in America employed on H1-B work visas that could easily be replaced by fully qualified Americans. When these workers leave to go home, they will take their experience, THE most valuable aspect of their work, with them.

    So without manufacturing and without intellectual property where are we? What is the basis of American wealth? Movies? Porn?

    Frankly I believe this will simply devolve down into it’s most basic aspect. Isolationism and protectionism across the board. The whole experiment in “free trade” and a “global economy” is a sham and a failure. And I don’t believe it’ll survive the decade at best and the 2004 election at worst.

    Come what may. If there isn’t a signifcant recovery of jobs in America by 2004 then, regardless of politics, there will be a huge movement in America to completely eliminate all aspects of “free trade”.

  • ed

    “Yes, I am being sarcastic. The check on AIDS cases in the West is less a matter of such devices and methods than the fact that AIDS is not a virally transmitted disease in the very first place.”

    Where the devil do you get this stuff? If it were a bacteria then antibiotics would suffice to treat it. If isn’t a bacteria and it’s not a virus then please explain what it is? A condemnation by God?

    Less sarcasm, more detail. Prove your point please.

  • Jen

    What I find really interesting about this whole thread is that no one responded to the really revolutionary post by Dan. Of course the idea of free work equaling bad work applies to schools! Although actually I would argue that schools are much more akin to prisons, another place where if work is done it is done poorly. Schools do not exist to truly educate, they exist to force social controls onto otherwise creative children.
    As far as the whole argument for finding a cure for AIDS goes, let´s draw an analogy with another condition which mysteriously went unsolved for years. A small group of researchers found, I believe it was almost thirty years ago, that ulcers were caused by bacteria, not diet. This information was suppressed by pharmas for years while they made millions off of ulcer treatments that didn´t work. So what motivation to the pharmas have to find a cure for AIDS? If they find a cure, they can´t make money off the drugs they sell now. Let´s for the sake of argument (I know not everyone accepts this idea, but bear with me) say that AIDS is caused by a virus. How do you fix a virus? With a vaccine. How many times can you sell a vaccine? Once, twice, a few times, depends on the vaccine. How many times can you make people pay through the nose for drugs to fight the virus? Well….
    So really, it has never been about trade or the current situation with patents. The prospect that Third World countries would “steal” their ideas only added to the pharmas´reluctance to find a cure. The reluctance was already there. Now they have another excuse why they don´t want to find a cure, a perfectly good capitalist reason, so everyone in the capitalist First World will buy their argument. I am NOT arguing that capitalism is evil, by the way. I´m just saying that if you know how to use the system, any system, it´s easier to get what you want. The pharmas are excellent at using the system, that´s all. I envy them, my life would probably be easier if I were better at using the system myself.